Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Buried Treasures: Star Wars Screen Superstars 1977

Star Wars Screen Superstars (1977)

Karen: I was sorting through some boxes in our garage recently and came across some old magazines I've been carting around with me for decades now. I thought it might be fun to take some of them out and give them a look, and share them with you. Back in the days before we learned everything the moment it happened, before Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, news traveled so much more slowly. As fans of what was then a minor and much maligned genre -science fiction - we jumped upon any morsel we could find. Those typically came from magazines. So I'm inaugurating a new feature, Buried Treasures, which will look at some of those goodies from the past. We won't be limited to just magazines, but they'll certainly have the lion's share of the spotlight.

Karen: There was a wonderful period of time in the mid to late 70s when there were just tons of science fiction film magazines on the stands. Starlog was probably the most prominent. The Star Trek Giant Poster Book magazine was another one I always picked up when I saw it. There was also Cinefantastique, which always seemed so serious.  But there were a lot of one-shot sort of magazines that would spring up for different films -and Star Wars probably bred more of these periodicals than any other. 

Karen: Today I'm going to look at one of these one-shots. It's called (I think) Star Wars Screen Superstar, and it was published in 1977 by Paradise Press. The writers include Jonathon Green, Doug Murray, and Allan Asherman, who has written books and articles on Star Trek. I suppose he was checking the new kid on the block out. Artists for this magazine include Dave Gibbons -I assume it's THAT Dave Gibbons - and Geoffrey Mandel, who is known for many contributions to Star Trek, from his fan days and the Enterprise Manual, up to becoming a production designer for the shows. The magazine is 62 pages long and is filled throughout with color photos, and many double-page spreads, some of which I will try to reproduce here, although my scanner bed can't quite fit the entire picture. I really read the heck out of this magazine when I first got it. I was hungry for anything on Star Wars back then (our little town didn't actually get the film for almost two months after it came out!) and I would read and re-read everything I had on Luke, the droids, and Vader.

Karen: I suspect that Mandel is responsible for the "Technical Readout" on the inside of the cover, which shows C-3PO and R2-D2 with detailed descriptions of all their mechanisms. I've printed it here for you to pore over. These are the kinds of things I would stare at as a kid and the information would be burned into my brain cells far more intently than anything I was looking at in my text books!

Karen: The magazine itself is broken down into four parts: a section on the making of the movie, another on the worlds of Star Wars, the third on the special effects, and the last on the cast and crew. The 'making of' part covers the difficulties George Lucas and crew faced in getting Star Wars off the ground. Although it seems like Star Wars fans have heard every story there is to hear a million times already, there were a few tidbits here and there that caught my attention. The article says that only one full scale x-wing and y-wing fighter were built -all the rest seen in the hangar shots are cardboard cut-outs. Could this be right? I suppose with it impossible to see the original Star Wars any more (Disney may change this soon, thankfully) it's hard to know if this is accurate. Another paragraph mentions Lucas' annoyance with the work habits of the British crew, which meant always ending the work day at 5:30 - of course, Lucas was under the gun and desperate to get the film completed. At the end of the article, when it recounts the films success, it claims that Lucas took his earnings and bought a $500,000 Lear jet, and had the interior redecorated to look like the Millenium Falcon. Could this be true? I never heard that before.

The next article, "The World of Star Wars," recounts much of the film, informed by interviews with Lucas and others, and perhaps, the novelization? It's fun to read some of this now, with a far different perspective -what was true then has become changed after so many years and those unnecessary prequels. We are told that the Republic has been taken over by Senator Palpatine, who has installed the Sith Lords and their high priest, Darth Vader, in the place of the Jedi. Unfortunately we never get any real sense of the Sith Lords in the original films, or the idea that Vader is a "High Priest" -the closest we get is the throwaway line from the unfortunate naval officer about his "Sorcerer's ways."   The author goes on to describe how the Star Wars ships "Looked right, in terms of say 'Star Trek' space technology" (what else did he have to compare it to?), and describes R2-D2 as "a technological wonder that is as common and everyday in the world of Star Wars as a pocket calculator is today." Does that take you back friends? But archaic tech aside, the author does well by discussing how very different the Star Wars robots, or droids, are compared to their cinema predecessors. There's no evidence of any of Asimov's Laws of Robotics at play here, and indeed, these droids are at least (if not more so) emotive as their human counterparts. The writer does a fine job throughout the article relating the movie back to its film and literary roots, without belittling it, which has become more common as time has passed. The article captures the feeling of elation and anticipation that Star Wars created when it first appeared, with the audiences hungry for more. It ushered in an era of sci fi films, many of which were crap, but there were also a lot of gems. After years of starving for science fiction and fantasy on the big screen, we would finally get our fill.

The third article is all about the special effects, and I hate to say it, but I skimmed over it. I just didn't need to know all the details, and I've seen a number of specials over the years that have shown the SFX wizardry on the films. Familiar names like John Dykstra, Dennis Muren, Richard Edlund, Stuart Freeborn, Rick Baker, and so on, all get their due here. 

The final section, "Who's Who in Star Wars," goes over the cast and some of the production crew. Each major actor is given a bio. It's amusing to read Harrison Ford's. Remember, this is 1977: "Of all his roles, there is no doubt that the one more remembered so far is his portrayal of Bob Faya -the tough-guy street racer in that smash-hit evocation of high-school fun and games: 'American Grafitti.'" After 37 years, does anyone even think of that role when they think of Ford? It's probably either Han Solo or Indiana Jones, then Blade Runner, then maybe the Fugitive, Witness, etc...There's a quote from George Lucas that I found very interesting, because I wonder if he would say it today: "I wasted four years of my life cruising like the kids in 'American Grafitti' and now I'm on an intergalactic dream of heroism. In 'Star Wars' I'm telling the story of me. It's my fantasy."


Anonymous said...

"Our little town didn't get to see the film for almost two months after it came out" - in the UK Star Wars didn't even open until Christmas 1977 and that was only London, I finally saw it on May 30th 1978 just over a year after its' U.S. debut. For me real Star Wars is the first film - before it was "A New Hope", before Darth Vader was Luke's father, before Leia was Luke's sister, before the sequels and prequels and Special Editions and CGI Jabbas and Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen and George Lucas' endless meddling - just an exciting sci-fi film with goodies and baddies and robots and cool space-ships. One thing about Harrison Ford - apparently he criticised George Lucas' dialogue and told him "George, you write this sh*t but you don't have to say it".

david_b said...

Karen, what a great find..!! I still remember the day buying my issue and whenever I come across it with all my other mags, I thumb through it for old time sake.

I recall the time it came out vividly. Starlog was clearly miles above any other magazine at the time, regularly buying the Trek poster books and the 'Star Trek Fan Club' magazines primarily. I picked this one up about a month after first seeing it, when you could feel magazine companies literally struggling to have the name 'star wars' on any magazine cover because they knew it would sell 20x what their other mags were doing.

It certainly had the huge full-page pics, and along with 'Frampton Comes Alive', I'm certain nearly every household with a teenager had this ish. It all looked sooooo amazingly new and cool.

The first Star Wars poster should be featured here someday soon as well. It just seemed like, 'suddenly Trek seemed so archaic and obsolete'.

Ditto on Colin's comments, while I strongly perfer Trek over SW now, the only SW paraphenalia I would buy now would be pre-franchise '70s fan club stuff or mags. It just seems cooler when it was more grassroots than when the franchise BEAST took over. I preferred SW when it was 'Star Wars', not 'Episode Four'. Same goes for 'Empire' as well. I can't really watch/enjoy anything after 'Empire'.

For 'Return of the Jedi', I frankly watch the Family Guy version instead.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yesterday national treasures, today buried treasures ... What'll we do tomorrow, hidden treasures? :P

Thanks for posting this, Karen. I remember all of the Star Wars material being published as well, although I missed getting most of it, except for the Star Wars trading cards (and I'm pretty sure the first three photos you posted, of Han, Vader and the Stormtrooper riding the giant lizard, were on those cards).
I was more front and center for the ancillary stuff once Empire came out.

A few things you mentioned really resonated with me, especially your point about absorbing all of that (oh so useful) information much better than school work - in fact, I think I mentioned something similar in our recent discussion of the Marvel U. handbooks.
I'm really looking forward to more of these buried treasures posts.

dbutler16 said...

Awesome post, Karen! Thanks for sharing. I'll bet you could get a pretty penny for that mag on ebay.
Didn't the unfortunate naval officer also make reference to Vader's "ancient religion"?

I actually do think of Harrison Ford's role in American Graffiti, at least when I think of Star Wars, because I know it was his first big role. I also think of his Jack Ryan role in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.

Dr. Oyola said...

Until recently I still had a very tattered copy of the program for Star Wars - yes, the program - remember when big movie releases still had programs sometimes?

All I have left of it is a photo page cut out of Leia putting the plans into R2, signed by Carrie Fisher and put away until I can maybe one day get Kenny Baker to also sign it and then get a proper frame.

Kenny Baker isn't dead is he? Jeez, I hope not.

I love this old stuff that hints at a different way of looking at a franchise and the reaction to it.

Edo Bosnar said...

As for Harrison Ford: his appearance in "American Graffiti" may not be the first role I associate with him, but it's pretty high up there. The first time I saw that movie was on TV sometime not long after "Raiders" came out, and I remember saying 'holy cow!' when his character showed up.
And I had pretty much the same reaction (with an added 'no way!') when at around the same time I saw him in a rerun of "Love, American Style."

J.A. Morris said...

Karen,thanks for sharing these images. I didn't own these, but I treasured things like the Star Wars movie program and looked at it all the time. Because in the pre-home video era, this was all we had. Same goes for the Marvel Treasury-sized Star Wars comic, it was the closest I could get to re-watching the movie at home.

Karen said...

Guys, thanks for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the look back. It was a real trip for me to find this old mag and read through it.

I agree with several of you, there's something very special about reading material written before Star Wars became the colossal industry that it now is. Back when it was a revelation and fresh, and we had to come to it with an open mind and no expectations, it all seemed so much more enjoyable. But of course that is the nature of everything in childhood versus adulthood I suppose. It's also the difference between a single unique film and a ton of movies, cartoons, and merchandise.

What I find especially amusing in this magazine is how the writers struggle at times to find things to compare Star Wars to and frequently fall back on Star Trek, which was probably the most common frame of reference for everyone (the old serials Lucas had been influenced by were not on most people's radar).

Next week we'll get to Trek, with a look at a classic, fan-favorite item.

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